Mac Musings

Tablet Mac? Ultralight MacBook? Or Both in One?

Daniel Knight - 2006.12.05

Macworld Expo is just five weeks off, and rumors are approaching a fever pitch. iPhone rumors make it sound like a done deal, but the latest rumors should be of more interest to Mac users.

There are two rumors about new notebooks. The older one posits the release of a Tablet Mac. The newer one suggests Apple will be releasing a thin-and-light 12" MacBook Pro.

What if they were one product rather than two?

I've seen tablet PCs, and the ones that make the most sense can function both as a regular notebook computer and as a tablet computer depending on which way the screen is rotated. One computer, two uses.

Andrew Fishkin has been sharing his experiences with Tablet PCs running Windows (links below), and they've been mostly positive. In fact, the only negative seems to be that they don't run Mac OS X. He's also been advocating that Apple make a thin-and-light 12" MacBook Pro.

Fishkin is a big fan of the four pound Toshiba Portegé 3505 from 2002, which weighs less than the 12" PowerBook G4, is a bit thicker, and works as both a notebook computer and a tablet PC.

Tablet PCs tend to be thicker than Apple's "pro" 'Books, which have been just 1.0-1.2" thin since 2001. The current Portegé M400 measures 1.6" thick and weight 4.5 lb., and the Lenovo ThinkPad X60, which houses the optical drive in a separate clip-on unit, is 1.3" thick and weighs 3.75 lb.

By comparison, the last 12" PowerBook weighs 4.6 pounds and is 1.2" thick. Like the Portegé, it has a built-in optical drive. Unlike the Portegé and ThinkPad X60, it can't be converted to tablet use.

We know that Apple can build a 1" thin notebook computer that includes an optical drive - and that Apple has resisted the idea of building an iBook, PowerBook, or MacBook without an optical drive.

We know that Apple still owns the handwriting recognition technology from the Newton. In fact, it's been part of Mac OS X since version 10.2. Known as Inkwell, the oddest thing about the technology is that it doesn't work with a single device Apple makes.

We also know that Tablet PCs must be a bit more rugged, particularly the hinge that allows the screen to pivot between notebook and tablet modes. Because of that, a MacTablet would probably be more than 1" thick.

Expected Details

The MacTablet (for lack of an official name) will be powered by an Intel Core 2 Duo processor in the 2.0 GHz range, include a minimum 512 MB of RAM, and probably have a 60 GB hard drive standard. I'd guess at a Combo drive as standards, with a SuperDrive optional.

The big question is whether Apple will use a 12" display, as in the PowerBook G4, or a 13" display, as in the MacBook.

Size would be comparable to the 12" PowerBook G4, which was 10.9" wide, 8.6" deep, and 1.18" thick, if Apple went with a 12" screen to keep size and weight down. Toshiba demonstrates that a tablet PC can weigh as little as the 12" PowerBook.

If Apple went with a widescreen 13" display (my personal preference), we'd be looking at about 12.7" x 9.0" x 1.2" and between 4.5 and 5.0 lb.

A third option would be a 12" widescreen display, which would keep the size and weight down. The standard widescreen display these days is 1280 x 800, and Avartec makes a Windows notebook measuring 11.7" x 8.4" x 1.3" and weighing 4 lb. Looking at its design, I'd guess a 12" MacTablet would have about the same footprint, be a bit thinner, and weigh a bit more (mostly due to Apple's penchant for long battery life).

Who Would Buy It?

If Apple were to produce such a device, I'm pretty sure Andrew Fishkin would be the first in line for one - and I suspect I'd quickly follow.

Why? Because a tablet computer lets you be productive when you don't have a place to set a laptop computer. Like standing in line or sitting at a Macworld keynote address. In fact, I'd guess that a lot of members of the press who use Macs would want one.

There's a secondary market for Macs since the Intel transition. Windows and Linux users are finding that Apple makes some of the best hardware out there - intelligently designed, robust, reliable. And it's price competitive with brand name Windows PCs.

Of course, all of this is pure speculation. We have no inside information that Apple will be building a thin-and-light MacTablet. We're just making educated guesses based on widely circulating rumors.

If Apple goes this route, I hope they'll include an ExpressCard/34 slot so users can add third-party wireless connectivity. And that they'll make memory and hard drive upgrades as easy as on the MacBook.

Anticipated price: US$1,699 or $1,799.

Further Reading